CAIN: Democratic Dialogue: With all due respect - pluralism and parity of esteem (Report No. 7)

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With all due respect

Pluralism and parity of esteem

Reconciling a balance

Reconciliation groups emerged in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1964 but mushroomed post-69. The focus of their activities varied and included addressing political issues, developing ecumenical understanding and bringing children and families from the two sides together. They can be classified in four ways: international communities of reconciliation, containing groups formed with the specific intention of acting as centres for reconciliation, such as the Corrymeela Community; local groups formed in the midst of hostility; groups formed out of the experience of violent bereavement; and children's community relations holidays.[1]

As community-based programmes evolved, mainly within the voluntary sector, their influence began to be felt in such areas as education, youth work and community development. In the latter half of the 80s, government came to espouse an explicit community-relations policy, which emphasised three objectives: (a) to increase opportunities for contact between Protestants and Catholics, (b) to encourage tolerance of cultural pluralism and (c) to seek to achieve equality of opportunity for all citizens. A community relations infrastructure was reestablished with the creation in 1987 of the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) within the Central Secretariat of the Northern Ireland civil service, followed by the establishment of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council (NICRC) in 1990.

An instance of such official recognition was the 1989 Education Reform Order, with the inclusion in the new core school curriculum of 'education for mutual understanding' (EMU) and a commitment to promote integrated education. Other initiatives have included the encouragement of cross-community contact between schools, the employment of community relations officers in local government and, outside government, the anti-sectarian programmes of the trade union movement.[2]

Yet two things are evident about these community-relations initiatives. The first is how long it took-two decades of intense political violence - before government responded to the challenge of communal division and to innovative developments on the ground. The second is their overall failure: there is widespread agreement amongst commentators that Northern Ireland is now not only more segregated but more polarised than ever.

Although teachers and academics had been active from the early 70s in this arena, government was more cautious about suggestions that schools should be involved with community relations. Its first public commitment was a 1982 circular called The Improvement of Community Relations: The Contribution of Schools, which said: "Every teacher, every school manager, board member and trustee, and every educational administrator within the system has a responsibility for helping children learn to understand and respect each other."

By 1989 this had been worked up to the Education Reform Order, which specified that two cross-curricular themes related to community relations be included in the Northern Ireland curriculum: EMU and 'cultural heritage'.[3] EMU has four objectives:

  • fostering respect for self and others,
  • understanding conflict,
  • appreciating interdependence, and
  • understanding cultural traditions.

Cultural heritage addresses three concerns:

  • interaction, interdependence, continuity and change;
  • shared, diverse and distinctive features of different traditions; and
  • international and transnational influences.

The order placed a statutory responsibility on school governors to report annually to parents on steps taken to promote EMU, but there is no direct EMU assessment of individual pupils. It has become clear that many schools also see the aims being communicated less formally, by the nature of relationships within the schools, and between the school and the wider community. In this sense, many schools claim that the aims of EMU are already implicit in their whole-school ethos.

While the themes are a mandatory feature of the curriculum, crosscommunity contact with pupils of other schools remains an optional strategy which teachers are encouraged to use.[4] By 1994-5, 45 per cent of schools were involved in the cross-community contact scheme, though the Department of Education has estimated that this involved fewer than 20 per cent of primary and fewer than 10 per cent of secondary pupils.

Perhaps the most dramatic development in education over the past 20 years has been the emergence of integrated schools, now attended by around 2 per cent of pupils. It is envisaged that they should be open to children from all and no religious backgrounds, but in practice schools are Christian in character and the founders, parents, teachers and managers have developed workable procedures for teaching religion. The Education Reform Order created a mechanism for funding them and placed a statutory responsibility on government to promote integrated education.

Among those interviewed for the purpose of this report, there was universal support for integrated education. Personally speaking, Jim Gibney (SF) believes in multi-denominational education: "[T]he integrated schools at the moment clearly are trying to have a balanced ethos, a balanced curriculum and it is certainly something that I would welcome ..." Jonathan Stephenson (SDLP) offered the caution that integrated education was "not the only solution" because without forced bussing it would be impossible to integrate pupils from inner-city areas, but was generally supportive of integrated schooling and EMU. David Adams (UDP) describes himself as a "great supporter" of integrated education, thinks that "on both sides of the community the churches have a lot to answer for" and argues that respect for other people's culture "has to be nurtured from an early stage ... in the schooling system".

There was common complaint that, at school, many of those interviewed had learnt nothing of their, or the other, community's identity. Carmel Gallagher of the Northern Ireland Curriculum Advisory Council points out that although it was intended that a common Northern Ireland history curriculum would provide a structured history of Northern Ireland, this is no longer the case. This component has been altered, giving only a snap shot of certain events in the region's history, such as the Belfast blitz and the 60s. She would like to see a specific component of the history curriculum, catering for the history of the north, pre- and post-partition. Although Ms Gallagher admits there is opposition from teachers being placed, as they see it, in the front line of community relations, she argues that the absence of any other sources of information about the history of Northern Ireland, apart from family and peer group, may be a significant factor in the reproduction of sectarian perspectives.

Dr Mari Fitzduff, formerly of the NICRC, calls on government to "face up to the existing educational interests and put a priority on integrated education". This would involve financial incentives for schools who "will take on board the integrated school ethos ... I would be happier with a situation where you actually had to be financially penalised for keeping an exclusive [single religious] school". While endorsing EMU, Dr Fitzduff stresses that in a shared educational environment you learn contacts and you learn networks that actually go away beyond schooling".

Flags and symbols are central to the debate about parity of esteem. Bryson and McCartney explain that while flags have their practical uses, their primary function has always been social communication. National flags in particular stimulate the viewer to feel and act in a calculated way. They represent or identify the existence, presence, origin, possession, loyalty, glory, beliefs, objectives and status of an entire nation. They are empowered to honour, dishonour, warn and encourage, threaten and promise, exalt and condemn, and commemorate. Flags authenticate claims, dramatise political demands, establish a common framework within which like-minded nations are willing to work out mutually agreeable solutions - or postulate and maintain irreconcilable differences that prevent agreements from occurring.

Flags are a mark of identity: they identify ourselves, they identify others and they provide a sign around which people can gather. As well as being a distinguishing mark, they are also a symbol of identity in a more emotional and psychological sense - a symbol through which one expresses one's loyalties and allegiances. Symbols become simple representations of group identity. They can be unifying, but only for those who want to identify with the group. They not only express a sense of belonging, but they can play a more active part in encouraging it, particularly when they are used as part of some ceremony They help to create a sense of occasion and highlight the importance of an event, and in turn they are honoured by being included in a special function.[5]

Bryson and McCartney argue that both unionists and nationalists treat British and Irish symbols as representing the institutions of the state, not the people or the territory although they may not articulate this distinction, or perhaps even recognise it consciously For unionists it is the institutions of the state which are important. The British national anthem and the Union flag represent the state institutions which exercise sovereignty over Northern Ireland, and thereby provides a sense of security in the face of the perceived risk of the unification of Ireland.

Unionists are often told that British-ness is not a real identity, that there is no British nation, that Britishness is an expression of citizenship. But this, say Bryson and McCartney, misses the point of what unionists want from their Britishness - citizenship in the sense of identification with the institutions of the state. For a unionist, if the Union flag is not flown, or the national anthem is not played, it is a sign that the link with Britain is being weakened. For unionists, the symbols of the Irish state are seen as irredentist and threatening and unionists would prefer them to be controlled.

On the other hand, when nationalists see the British flag, or hear the anthem, they also do not see them as representing the people or territory of the UK. Like unionists, they are more aware of them as symbols of the state. Unlike unionists, nationalists do not have the same benign view of that state. For them it is an order imposed within Ireland, in a most hostile form, and is seen as an imperialist system.

Not all nationalists share the degree of hostility republicans display towards the British state. Some are willing to respect the symbols, though they tend to feel they are overused and unnecessary on many occasions. But all nationalists have a sense of Irishness, whether or not they want the early reunification of Ireland. An important expression of identification is the Tricolour and the anthem. On the other hand, many nationalists do aspire to a united Ireland, and would work for that goal. They share some of the émigré sense of attachment to the symbols of the motherland: the exile may be able to return home; the colonial subject may see the country become free.

Divisions within Irish nationalism are reflected in the differing perspectives of Jonathan Stephenson and Jim Gibney. Mr Stephenson has "no problem with the Union Jack on public buildings", but "I do have a slight problem with it on kerb stones ... because that's dogs marking out territory".

Mr Gibney argues that until such time as the constitutional future of Northern Ireland is resolved, northern nationalists should be treated with "respect ... integrity and ... dignity, and that needs to be reflected in the laws of the land and in symbols of the state as well". He goes further than Mr Stephenson, however, calling for the removal of all symbols of Britishness from the Northern Ireland state, claiming that their usage demonstrates cultural discrimination against nationalists and republicans:

We either ... seek neutral symbols, which both communities can pledge their allegiance to, or else, where the Union Jack flies, so the Irish national flag flies alongside it. The prefix 'royal' for example, is] again the symbol of one community. We believe you should seek neutral symbols, I so] there shouldn't be 'Royal' Courts of Justice, the 'Royal' Ulster Constabulary, the 'Royal' Mail; all of these [symbols] … need to be removed and [in] this process of removing them, what you are in fact doing is ... legitimising a tradition, an identity which has been delegitimised since 1920, since this state was formed. In other words, a total reversal of what we have had to date, a British state imposed upon a community which does not want that state to be here.
For the republic's government, one of the successes of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was the repeal of the Flags and Emblems Act, allowing the Tricolour to be flown more frequently. It suggests that attention could be paid to the use of flags at police stations and court houses, favouring diminished use of the Union flag and greater emphasis on neutrality It realises that it would too much to expect that the Tricolour would be allowed to fly over state buildings in Northern Ireland, but would wish portraits of the Queen to be removed from police stations.

Although Dublin is conscious that it cannot say this publicly, effectively it is trying to get nationalists to accept Northern Ireland as their home, providing them with incentives in terms of how the region is administered on a day-to-day basis. It accepts this may be perceived as 'Irishising' Northern Ireland, but argues that in practice if Northern Ireland is going to stay British - as its commitment to the 'consent principle' implies for the foreseeable future - then symbolic adjustment in the direction of nationalists is not really going to have any impact on the constitutional status of the region.

From a loyalist perspective, David Adams cautions that if parity of esteem means a complete removal of all flags and symbols from government buildings, or institutions of the state, it will be "very hard to achieve"; and as for the Tricolour flying side by side with the Union Jack, "I believe that would be impossible". Unionists do not know where the process will end and become concerned about what the future holds. He accepts that many "clearly haven't made the jump" in recognising the Irishness of northern nationalists, but also fears nationalists, and republicans in particular, wish to have no recognition of the "British-Protestant-Ulster" culture.

Rationalising the fears many unionists have of the consequences which might arise, following the removal of British symbols in Northern Ireland, Bob McCartney (UKUP) stresses that the debate over symbols and expressions of identity, such as over increased showing of Gaelic games on television, are "things which people like me in a pluralist society don't give a toss about". However, Mr McCartney recognises that a lot of unionists are paranoid, and he claims they are paranoid because, since 1921, the British government has

kept them at arm's length in a sort of limbo where it would put them out if it could, it would solve the Irish problem thereby] and, therefore, it has almost institutionalised political anxiety and worry and fear about our future among the unionist community. And therefore they have become hyper-sensitive to any symbol or indications that their Britishness is being undermined. This has been accelerated by the other side, by the desire of extreme nationalism.
'Extreme nationalism', Mr McCartney claims, has politicised its culture and "they are saying, this is our culture, this is going to be the predominant culture and as we advance these cultural symbols we are pointing out to the unionists this is the way it is going to go".

On the other hand, he contends, unionists, conditioned by the uncertainty of their political future, become increasingly attached to the symbols which reassure them that they are British. The advance of Catholic cultural symbols is "not seen with the political confidence and assurance [with which] that would be viewed in a state that was totally pluralist or where the citizens were confident and certain of their political identity It is seen as a state which is under threat and where the advance of nationalist symbols is very often at the expense of a reduction of the symbols which assured them that they were still British."

As for Gaelic culture, many unionists, Ian Paisley Jnr (DUP) contends, "feel uncomfortable whenever the Irish language is spoken". He feels uncomfortable, claiming that it has been "politically hijacked and [that] those who even don't use it … [make of it a] political vehicle ... I don't identify with it, it is not mine and indeed I have a sense that it is hostile to me." Mr Paisley's interaction with Catholics is on the basis that "at the end of the day we are all English-speaking". He claims nationalists, including in such contexts as graduation at Queen's University, should "accept the national anthem because that is the nation's national anthem".

For all the moderation of the efforts of the republic's government, then, it is clear that unionists feel almost universal unease or even fear that what they see as symbolic expressions of their identity are being challenged in a zero-sum unionist-nationalist game.

Institutional forms of cultural expression in Northern Ireland range beyond flags and symbols, particularly in terms of policing and public order. Parades remain a flashpoint, as demonstrated during the successive Drumcree disturbances, in 1995 and 1996, which brought Northern Ireland to a standstill with widespread civil unrest. Issues concerning policing policies, structures and practices - and the administration of justice generally - have polarised Northern Ireland since the establishment of the state, and they continue to divide the two communities.

On the one hand, most unionists see the various institutional arrangements and legislative frameworks for the maintenance of law and order as essential to the preservation of the constitutional status quo, faced with the threat of militant republicanism. On the other hand, most nationalists view the same institutions and legislation as yet more examples of the sectarian nature of the state. From the creation of the state, the RUC was trained to perform not only the normal functions of a civilian police force, but also a paramilitary role to counter the threat posed by the IRA. In that role it was to be supported by the Ulster Special Constabulary from the outset viewed with suspicion, resentment and even hatred by most Catholics.

Following the communal disturbances of 1969, in 1970 the USC was replaced by the Ulster Defence Regiment and, to free the RUC from political control, a Police Act established a new Police Authority for Northern Ireland, intended to be representative of the main sections of the community. The RUC complement, previously limited to 3,500, was raised, leading ultimately to a full-time force of 8,478 by 1992, when there was also a full-time reserve of 3,160 and a part-time reserve of 1,432. This increase was not, however, matched by increased Catholic participation: whereas in 1961 Catholics comprised 12 per cent of the force, this had fallen back to 7.7 per cent by 1992.

A mixed and polarised opinion has been recorded in surveys and polls on policing. A Belfast Telegraph poll in 1985 reported that while a substantial proportion of both Protestants (59 per cent) and Catholics (43 per cent) said the RUG carried out its duties fairly, the rest of the Protestants (37 per cent) said that the RUC carried out its duties very fairly while the rest of the Catholics (53 per cent) said that it carried out its duties unfairly or very unfairly.[6]

The 'security forces' are one of the largest employment sectors in Northern Ireland, amounting in total to some 21,000 jobs. Some 11,500 are employed in the RUC and some 7,500 in locally recruited and locally deployed units of the Royal Irish Regiment, formerly the UDR. The remainder are employed in the prisons service and publicly financed security positions. In 1992, 87 per cent of these employees were drawn from the Protestant community, whereas only 7 per cent were Catholic (the remainder being in many cases recruited in Britain).

There is thus clearly a widespread Catholic perception that the institutional weight of the security apparatus in Northern Ireland is tilted towards the Protestant community and fails to meet the aspiration for parity of esteem. It is also clear that a radical overhaul would be required to rise to this challenge - incremental change would simply be too slow and too limited. It is thus unfortunate that the widespread debate initiated by the Police Authority under its former chair, David Cook, was not translated into more innovative responses after Mr Cook was forced from his position by internal dissent.

But there is also no doubting unionist sensitivities. Dr Henry Allen affirms that unionists "at the present time would not want to give up the 'Royal' because the 'Royal' to them is an association with Britishness ... I mean to start trying to go against everything that is British is to me totally counterproductive."

The policing question is itself entangled with the major parades issue. For those who support and oppose the right of parades to follow 'traditional' routes which the RUG has to police, perceptions of what the events symbolise differ substantially Jarman and Bryan argue that the formalised and routinised nature of parades and their repetitiveness over time gives the impression of social continuity - of tradition. As ritual events, they may convey a lack of change, and many participants understand them as 'traditional', and therefore depoliticised, but they are clearly part of the present charged political situation. Indeed, it is precisely at times of change that communities require certain identifications with a past to be perceived as more secure. To many outside the bands and orders, it feels like the parades are a conspiracy to rule the streets of Northern Ireland each summer, whereas to those taking part each parade expresses a localised variant of an increasingly disparate loyalism.[7]

George Patton of the Orange Order denies that an Orange parade is triumphalist and sees it as an expression of religious and civil liberty for all Northern Ireland's citizens:

People think we remember 1690 and the Battle of the Boyne because the Prods beat the Taigs, which is nonsense - they didn't. Protestants and Roman Catholics fought on both sides ... There was an element of religion in that war as there was in every war during that century and many wars before and since, but what the Battle of the Boyne was all about was a system of government, James II, absolute power, or William and Mary, willing to co-operate with Parliament ... So that is why the 'glorious revolution' and the Boyne which secured the revolution is important to me, rather than a battle. If we wanted to be triumphalist we would actually celebrate Aughrim, which was the bloody battle of the war and where it probably was more religion than anything else.
Many unionists see attempts to reroute parades as a deliberate and co-ordinated assault on their Britishness. Billy Hutchinson of the PUP believes the "parades issue is one that has been picked up particularly by republicans" whom he accuses of "a lack of recognition ... that the British presence is not the British government ... [but the] unionist population". Yet much about a parade can indeed be perceived as triumphalist. The banners carry images of battles and individuals deemed central to the Protestant cause. For many Catholics there is little religious about the Orange institution: it celebrates and represents political victories. Moreover, the order is seen in a broader context: it was, and to a certain extent still is, part of the Northern Ireland state from which many Catholics feel alienated.[8]

The republic's government regarded Drumcree in 1996 as a devastating dismissal of parity of esteem, arguing that there has been no equivalent effort by nationalists to shove their values down the throats of unionists. It regards the reversal of the RUG'S original decision not to let the Orange parade down the Garvaghy Road in Portadown as a massive surrender, raising fundamental questions about the institutions of the state and their attitude towards Orangeism and loyalism. The episode signalled, in Dublin's view, that while the British government might make certain assertions about parity of esteem, when it came down to it all that unionists had to do was to beat the drums and those assertions of neutrality would go out the door. Reacting to unionist fears about the cultural retreat of Britishness in Northern Ireland, the republic's government starts from the premise that in 1922 unionists were given 'a Protestant state for a Protestant people', and if unionists and nationalists are to share the Northern Ireland state then there is an element of cultural retreat involved in moving away from dominance to sharing.

For Jonathan Stephenson, the crucial element, especially after Drumcree, "is how this state will be policed … [B]asically it is 'their' police force or our police force, it is not an inclusive police force." In any political settlement, Mr Stephenson argues that the police would need to be responsible to the political institutions, whether through a minister of justice, in a devolved assembly, as the Alliance Party has suggested, or through a more broadly based, democratically accountable Police Authority. He also wants a debate as to whether it should be one police service or, as the SDLP suggests, comprising three or four area police services with greater community input, perhaps within an all-Ireland context.

While recognising that "symbols are not unimportant" for him they "are not the be-all and end-all". Thus in Dublin "you have the Royal Dublin Show ... and I am sure if I looked hard enough I could find any number of 'Royals' in Dublin … I think I could live with something like The RUC/Northern Ireland Police Service … [with] each side calling it what it bloody well wanted."

Jim Gibney takes a tougher view. Rehearsing the events surrounding Drumcree, he describes the RUC as a sectarian force that regards Irish nationalists as little more than criminals and treats them as such. So that force has to go." SF wants it phased out, replaced by a civilianised, localised, unarmed policing service. And he insists: "You see our primary demand is for the dissolution of this state."

In Northern Ireland, economics has had knock-on effects on the basic political divisions. Social and economic factors have contributed to Catholic alienation before, and during, the current 'troubles', particularly in fuelling the perception among Catholics of unfair discrimination.

The 1991 census revealed once again how unemployment bore down heavily on the Catholic community: Catholic male unemployment was 28.4 per cent, compared with 13.9 per cent for Protestants and other categories; amongst women the equivalent rates were 14.5 per cent for Catholics and 8.8 per cent for Protestants. Evidence from other sources, such as the Labour Force Survey, showed similar results.

Because of their higher unemployment levels, Catholics have also been forced into greater dependence on state benefits. A 1988-91 survey found that 30 per cent of Catholic families were in receipt of income support, compared with 16 per cent of Protestant households. And although there has been a narrowing of the income gap between Catholic and Protestant households in general, the Catholic average remains lower.

For the British government, Sir David Fell argues that, although they can be distinguished, the general thrust of policy is to approach economic, cultural and political pluralism together. Nevertheless, the concepts of equality of opportunity and equality of treatment mainly relate to the economic realm. Here government's objective is to ensure all individuals can participate, without suffering disadvantage by virtue of community background, race or gender.

Anti-discrimination legislation is an important component in this, though here equality of outcome is not an objective. In relation to particular services or facilities, however, equality of participation and outcome for marginalised groups is often regarded as a desirable end and monitoring may be undertaken to confirm this is being achieved.

The Northern Ireland Constitution Act of 1973 outlawed discrimination by government and other public authorities on grounds of religious belief or political opinion. Subsequent legislation provided protection against religious and political discrimination in employment (1976 and 1989), on gender grounds (1976), and in relation to disability (1996) and race (1997).

The government's cultural traditions policy meanwhile aims to increase understanding and appreciation of all the complex strands of Northern Ireland's cultural heritage. In socio-economic policy, since 1991 government has been committed to 'targeting social need' (TSN), directing resources, as far as possible, towards areas and people objectively defined as being in greatest need. The government expects that TSN will, over time, help erode intercommunal socioeconomic differentials.

Since 1994, Northern Ireland departments and other parts of the public sector have applied Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment guidelines when considering new policies or services, and reviewing existing ones. The PAFT guidelines require departments to identify potential discriminatory impacts and to consider whether they are justifiable. Categories of potential discrimination include religion and political opinion, gender, race and disability.

The government's main political objective remains a 'comprehensive settlement' which would both return greater power, authority and responsibility to all the people of Northern Ireland, on an agreed basis, and take full account of Northern Ireland's wider relationships with the rest of the UK and of the island of Ireland. Sir David and the government believe that the policies outlined above work towards that objective by signalling to the two main politico-religious communities that legal and administrative mechanisms can safeguard their political and cultural identities within a Northern Ireland context. The detail of such arrangements would be within the scope of the talks process initiated in the summer of 1996.

It has already been suggested, in the opening chapter, that the government's constitutional project is fundamentally incoherent. The limitations of the other key policy planks, of PAFT and TSN, are explored in the conclusion.

The Fair Employment Agency initially concentrated its work on individual complaints of discrimination by employers. But relatively few complaints were made and it was very difficult to establish that there had been any direct discrimination. During the 80s, the agency shifted the focus of its work to more general investigations of patterns of employment in sectors or firms, notably the civil service. In almost all such cases it was found that more Protestants were employed than would have been expected and that some employer practices were failing to ensure Catholics equality of opportunity.

The results of this external monitoring eventually persuaded government that more could be done by all employers to provide equality of opportunity if they were required to monitor the composition of their own workforces. A formal obligation to this effect, supervised by a strengthened Fair Employment Commission (FEC), was imposed on all employers with more than 25 employees under an amending Fair Employment Act in 1989.

The practical result is that, though there are no quotas for the numbers of Protestants or Catholics in any workforce, there is considerable pressure on employers to take action to secure a reasonable balance. One of the major achievements of the FEC has been to make it no longer acceptable in business circles to regard open or covert discrimination as either tolerable or unavoidable.[9]

Bob Cooper, FEC chair, believes government has a crucial role to play in securing parity of esteem. The commission, like other government agencies, is "part of the solution and part of the problem". In the long term, he sees fair-employment legislation positively influencing Catholic attitudes to the state: " I think that the bulk of Catholics sometime would like to see a united Ireland, sometime in the future, but basically they want a decent situation ... a decent economic future." He accepts that the FEC is "seen by the Protestant community as a threat", as if "we are here to take jobs away from them and give them to Catholics". He believes that one of the ways in which this fear can be removed is by much greater investment.

Terry Carlin (ICTU) concurs on this last point. He wants to see a devolved government where politicians in Northern Ireland co-operate on issues like housing, jobs, education, and health: "Somebody asked me one time what I wanted for Northern Ireland. I said 100,000 jobs, 30,000 houses."

All aspects of Northern Ireland's society are touched by its divisions. The games curriculum of many, if not most, schools is predominantly Catholic or Protestant. Gaelic sports prevail in most Catholic schools, whereas games with British pedigree, such as rugby union, hockey and cricket, predominate in many Protestant establishments. There are, however, a group of sports-including soccer, basketball and netball - which cut across the denominational split. Nevertheless, simply playing a game which is played by people in the other community counts little towards integration if it is only done 'against them' and in the company of those from 'your own side'.

Outside the school gates, a subtle sporting apartheid is sustained by a vast network of voluntary organisations and governing bodies through which separate community affiliation is confirmed, in terms of what games are played and watched, which teams are supported, and which clubs and societies are joined and patronised. Indeed, sport has developed as one of Northern Ireland's most important symbols of national and community identity: it has been estimated that, outside of schools, up to a quarter of a million people are actively involved in sport in the region.[10]

The Sports Council of Northern Ireland attempts to ensure that sectarianism is removed from the sporting arena as far as is possible. For its director, Eamon McCartan, sport can be an "agent for good and an agent for not so good. We try to develop policies and strategies, encourage people to undertake actions or programmes of work which are inclusive and cohesive, rather than exclusive and divisive." A sports development officer is tasked with looking at community relations and the SCNI is in the process of completing a community relations strategy.

Mr McCartan describes the Sports Council as a non-sectarian organisation which seeks to develop sport in a nonsectarian environment. The SCNI looks at models of good practice which might be more generally deployed, but he recognises that while it can develop strategies "it is down to the club, down to the governing body, and one thing you couldn't do is ... force people into it".

He warns that Catholic-Protestant sporting encounters, such as those between schools, can actually accentuate tensions, if badly managed: "So you need to create an environment which is a positive environment where the competition is brisk and robust for the purposes of sport, because competition is the key element of sport, but you are being competitive because you wish to win the sport - not because you wish to knock the shit out of one or the other because of their religion."

Mr McCartan stresses that change in Northern Ireland is very difficult because of its conservatism and so favours evolution over revolution, gradually planting seeds in the governing bodies and in the clubs, about community relations, about improved relationships - because "that is what we are talking about, relationships between people, ordinary people".

The televising of various sports, identified along communal lines, is only one of the problems broadcasters encounter regarding parity of esteem. Now BBC NI controller, Patrick Loughrey has been involved with community-relations initiatives such as the Cultural Traditions Group of the NICRC, which he argues was a far-sighted attempt to "grasp the taboos, because there is no doubt that we were crippled by our politeness to a large extent". This drew broadcasters, print journalists, museums, publishers, institutes and universities into addressing identity issues.

Mr Loughrey expresses unease about an analysis of Northern Ireland which only recognises two traditions: "I have argued for a very long time that there are many traditions, many backgrounds, many identities and that to easily succumb ... to an analysis that is simple dichotomy ... is to take the political polarisation and to allow it to appropriate a far more diverse cultural historical group." While he can see a danger of being accused of "escapism from the polarised truth", he stresses that the future must be "one of true individualism rather than this collectivism, because collectivism is a way to tribalism and danger. there are not just two communities".

Mr Loughrey believes that all broadcasters have an obligation to communication, dialogue and the avoidance of easy labelling, particularly since Northern Ireland has been a community lacking a common forum for discussion and debate, lacking a parliament, lacking opportunities for confrontation with issues-broadcasters can potentially, fill that gap. As to whether the BBC should 'educate' the community, he claims that its output reflects concerted attempts to open up for discussion, and awareness, that which is incomprehensible to each tradition.

But he also believes that, like education, broadcasting needs to be aware of its limitations and he worries there is a danger that either education or broadcasting can be expected to do rather more than it can. The information and entertainment roles of broadcasting are also hugely siguificant and "people take from us what they want and our role of 'giving the people what's good for them' has changed dramatically ... so I don't think we can effect certain change if society doesn't want to accept it. What we can do is continue to offer opportunities for awareness, for debate and discussion and dialogue ..."

Dr Philip McGarry of the Alliance Party also emphasises the diversity of Northern Ireland's identities. Alliance again prefers to see identity as an individual matter, and to ensure that the unionist and nationalist traditions are not perceived as exhaustive. For the party, the 'third tradition' is the 'liberal and democratic' one, based not on land and nationality, but on freedom, plurality and internationalism. Its primary value is deemed to be respect for individual conscience and it stands for democracy, values minorities and distrusts the authoritarian tendencies of the big battalions. It welcomes diversity in all societies, as a source of strength and richness.

Quintin Oliver, of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, recalls how, following Drumcree, he encountered an air of demoralisation in the voluntary sector: "We thought that there was a more progressive mood of tolerance but a lot of us are examining that, postDrumeree, because we failed, because people went back into their trenches." Although Northern Ireland is considered to have a strong civil society, Mr Oliver perceives that there remains "a gulf ... a chasm that still needs to be bridged".

On the other hand, the positive aspect of voluntary and community life is that "we have done a lot, we have picked up the pieces from the 'troubles', we have kept people talking, we have kept candles of hope glittering in both communities, we have developed a lively women's movement which is credited with having done a lot of the development and discussion work across the communities and emerged very positively during the peace as vehicles for negotiation at talks". Mr Oliver also cites some local anti-sectarian development work, and the broader community activity in Northern Ireland, "which is unrivalled and at the leading edge in UK and European terms".

He sees civil-society organisations as "absolutely critical" in developing a pluralist society in Northern Ireland. Where people say 'we can do nothing, it is the politicians', 'we can do nothing, it is the governments', 'we can do nothing, it is the men of violence', Mr Oliver counters that "there are lots of things that we in our various roles can do, in trade unions, in churches ... in business organisations, local councils, community groups, voluntary groups and so forth, and that is where we in NICVA are doing work with our counterparts at the Northern Ireland level, with the C[onfederation of] B[ritish] I[ndustry] ... and the farmers' organisations to build a Social Partners' Forum to underpin civil society, to strengthen the voices of civil society and business organisations and to give a lead on these areas where action can be taken without major political or structural changes."

It is worth adding the rider, though, that from her community-relations, rather than community-development, perspective, Mari Fitzduff is a little critical of the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland. She argues that it has actually been reluctant to acknowledge sectarianism and deal with it.

Many of those interviewed, while necoguising that parity of esteem involves an accommodation between the two main traditions, also emphasised that a genuinely pluralist society requires a wider tolerance and equity. In particular, the place of women in Northern Ireland has dramatically altered during the 'troubles', assisted by the expansion of service industries. Between 1952 and the 1990s, the female proportion of employees increased from 36 per cent to over 48 per cent in an expanded workforce. Women, have, however, been concentrated in a very limited number of sectors and in low-paid, frequently part-time, jobs. The most dramatic change has been the increase in married women in employment, from just under 30 per cent in 1961 to 59 per cent by the 80s.

Evelyn Collins of the Equal Opportunities Commission is quite heartened by the success of the Women's Coalition in being elected to the Northern Ireland Forum and talks, as evidence of how there have been "tremendous energies put in by women into practical, non-constitutional political questions over the last 25 years ... in spite of what was happening and ... you can observe that quite clearly and I think that is interesting. Does that say that women aren't interested in the constitutional question? Or that they are more interested in health care …?"

Ms Collins claims that women do recognise that constitutional issues are important, but many realise that "we shouldn't ... just ... not talk about anything else". She feels that one problem with cultural identity in Northern Ireland is that it is used by many "not as a kind of general description of what they are but actually as an aggressive weapon against what somebody else is. So I think that is where incompatibility arises, when people go beyond saying 'this is what I feel I am because of these reasons to 'it is because I feel I am in opposition to what you are'. I don't feel really hostile to anybody."

Her thoughts on the Northern Ireland political situation are rather of frustration and depression and she sees the Women's Coalition as "actually a good encapsulation of what I think [is] the way a lot of women feel, that people have to talk, you have to get round the table, you have to put everything on the table and find a solution, as opposed to 'we are not talking because we think there is no solution', or 'we are not talking because we don't like the solution that we think you might have'."

As regards ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland, Patrick Yu of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities feels that the inadequacy of government support indicates the low priority attached to their needs. Thus, the Chinese community has had to depend upon its own resources to set up a Chinese-language school, and a similar process has had to be undertaken by Indian, Pakistani and other Muslim communities. Mr Yu also insists that there are more than the two main traditions in Northern Ireland. On top of the new Race Relations Order, he urges a coherent policy to remove institutional racism - for example, through providing interpreters at health and social service access points.

He identifies a need for the police to be more receptive to ethnic minority needs. At some RUC stations, he claims, there is an ambivalence about the language difficulties ethnic minorities encounter when reporting crime, while at other stations, such as Donegall Pass in Belfast, a conscious effort has been made to be accommodating. He would like to see an extension of this good practice, through the training of police officers, throughout Northern Ireland. And he calls for a "cultural programme" in schools, believing it to be "very important in life that any community should respect another community rather than ... emphasising one single perspective".

Speaking on behalf of the travelling community, Michael Noonan summarises the reaction of the state as one of "straightforward repression". He cites the Miscellaneous Provisions Order (NI) 1985, in effect a law which can allow the imposition of a quota of travellers to a particular area if a local authority can satisfy the D[epartment] o[f] E[nvironment] that 'adequate' ... provision has been made for travellers who normally reside in, or resort to, a particular district. So once an area is desiguated ... whole areas can be declared off limits to travellers not camped on these official sites." Mr Noonan argues that this is in contravention of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, prescribing that everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

Travellers, he contends, have not enjoyed parity of esteem in terms of equality of access to services. Historically, the education authorities "really didn't give a damn whether travellers went to school or not. Certainly there was no effort to examine how the delivery of education might be tailored to the needs of a nomadic group or indeed how their culture and so on might be reflected within the school curriculum." Mr Noonan calls for all children to be educated, via the curriculum, about the various cultures of Northern Ireland, including the culture of travellers.

The key theme to emerge from the focus groups was, again, the close correlation with the interviewees' responses. For example, while there were similarities in the outlook of women and their experiences, expressed in the Catholic and Protestant women's focus groups, this comity ended with introduction of the subject of defining parity of esteem and its relationship to the community from which the women hailed. From this point onwards, the core myths about Britishness and Irishness expressed in the other focus groups reentered the debate.

When the debate was restricted to women and gender identity, participants in the women's groups argued that there was no 'parity of esteem' for them. And they could extend this to a lack of esteem, defined as respect and tolerance, enjoyed by other social groups, such as ethnic minorities, homosexuals or the disabled. It was suggested that parity of esteem meant that men and women should have the same degree of authority and respect in society generally. It was felt, by both Catholic and Protestant women, that there was a stereotypical role into which women were placed, where they were expected to remain at home engaged in domestic housework and take primary responsibility for raising children.

Many felt that barriers were placed in the way of women achieving parity with men, such as lack of childcare preventing women utilising job or educational opportunities. It was felt that greater involvement in politics - in which the Women's Coalition appeared to offer some encouragement and a good role model - required political parties to take greater account of women's issues and perspectives.

Within the youth focus group, participants recalled positive experiences of meeting in a forum where they could encounter young people from the other community. The perception among this mixed, Protestant and Catholic, group was that meeting members of the other community broke down stereotypes and prejudices, making it easier to view people of differing religious groups on an individual rather than a communal basis.

Members of this group claimed, moreover, that involvement in cross-community contact schemes led them to become more tolerant of the symbols and cultural identity of others. Protestants within the group spoke, however, of opposition they had encountered within their community to such schemes, apparently out of fear of their ultimate purpose.

Nevertheless, it was noticeable in this group that once a discussion of flags and symbols began divisions broke out along religious lines. This was also true of discussions about the Irishness of Catholics and the Britishness of Protestants, which reflected the views exhibited by adults in other groups. This appeared to indicate that even in a mixed environment where the participants knew each other well the introduction of issues revolving around a unionist-nationalist axis evoked a deeper response.

From both the Protestant focus groups, urban and rural, parallel claims emerged of a sense of being under cultural pressure. Some members of the groups were extremely opposed to initiatives such as EMU and cultural heritage. There was a very real apprehension that this was part of a government effort to 'Irishise' Protestants, with a view to the ultimate disengagement of the British state. By contrast, Catholics, from all focus groups, felt at ease with the notion of increased cross-community contact.

Those Protestants opposed to EMU and cultural heritage were not, on the other hand, necessarily opposed to integrated education, which found widespread support among both Catholics and Protestants. There was a sense within the focus groups that while many people wanted to send their children to integrated schools they did not have the opportunity. The impression was that parents wanted to send their children to integrated schools which offered a high standard of education, but were often prohibited by lack of access to such schools locally.

From the focus groups it could be seen that many of the issues raised by politicians-flags, symbols and the Irish language - were concerns reflected within the society more broadly. Regardless of class or gender, Catholics expressed hostility to the monocultural British ethos of the Northern Ireland state. There was concern at the lack of funding for Irish-language schools and approval for the increased coverage of Gaelic games on television. Yet this angered many Protestants, who contended that the Orange Order was portrayed as a sectarian organisation whereas the Gaelic Athletic Association-which banned members of the RUC, the Royal Irish Regiment and the British army-was given substantial and unquestioned coverage.

While some Catholics, including one republican, were prepared to accept limited use of British symbols, such as on government buildings, on certain days such as the Queen's birthday, they found it offensive that the Union flag flew over police stations - particularly in or near Catholic areas - and unionist-controlled councils. Nearly all Protestants, on the other hand, were very much opposed to any further reduction in the display of British symbols. The idea that there should be dual display of the flags of the UK and the republic on government buildings, while it found favour among Catholics (although many did not regard it as realistic in the short term), met total Protestant opposition.

Protestants only perceived attacks upon their symbols of Britishness, not on nationalist symbols of Irishness. Catholics argued this was necessary to establish an equilibrium between Irishness and Britishness in Northern Ireland. While Protestants consoled themselves that they had their Britishness recognised by their membership of the UK, they saw efforts to upgrade Irishness in conjunction with their fears about the framework document at one level and European economic and monetary union at another - all seen as geared towards loosening Northern Ireland's position within the union. Protestants within the focus groups tended to react negatively to all expressions of nationalist Irishness.

Any suggestion that the RUC should have its name changed or be disbanded produced bitter comments. Yet while some Catholics wished to see the RUC replaced, others were willing to accept substantial reform. This included suggestions that a new police service might have the dual title of The RUC/Northern Ireland's Police Service; introduction of a completely independent complaints procedure; and removal of controversial symbols of Britishness, such as the flying of the Union flag outside police stations, the oath of allegiance to the Queen and royal portraits.

Many Catholics emphasised, however, that they would now insist upon greater changes to the RUC since the Drumcree 'stand-off' of 1996, when it was seen to have been ineffective in standing up to the marchers, and to have used disproportionate force towards nationalists. Drumcree was seen as a fundamental attack on parity of esteem. Catholics rejected the claim that parades in controversial districts should be permitted because they were 'traditional', since they did not admit that these had been welcome on previous occasions. And it was accepted by most Catholics that Protestants were right to assume that concessions on symbols, policing and parades would not result in nationalists abandoning aspirations for far-reaching constitutional changes.

All Catholics in the focus groups argued that loyal-order marches should acquire the consent of residents in Catholic areas through which the marchers had to pass. This was described as a human-rights issue. The marchers were seen as attempting to dominate local residents and emphasise that Northern Ireland remained a Protestant state. Most Catholics found it difficult to accept that Protestant culture was being discriminated against by the failure to march along 'traditional' routes, which were regarded as traditional only because they had been imposed on Catholic residents in the past, or because Protestants had once, but no longer, lived there.

For many Catholics, the coming of the Orange marching season recalled experiences of fear, intimidation and taunting by marchers. It was felt that decisions on proposed parade routes should be locality-sensitive, taking full account of the rights and feelings of the communities living along the routes. It was stressed that local communities had rights as well as the marchers and these should be recognised.

They held that people had the right to march but that right was not absolute and should be exercised with the sensitivities of others in mind. The residents of areas through which parades intended to pass had to have the right to withhold their consent to parades if they caused offence; if that consent was not given then march organisers should seek alternative routes. March organisers should also give assurances about marchers' behaviour and those who associated themselves with parades had to ensure sectarian provocation was avoided. Permission for future parades should be dependent on those wishes being fulfilled.

For Protestant participants, on the other hand, the resistance of local resident groups to marches, in areas such as the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, was seen as a direct attack upon Protestant and British culture. To many Protestants within the focus groups, all the rhetoric of nationalists on parity of esteem was just that - rhetoric. As one person expressed it, he would love to see parity of esteem for his, Protestant and British, culture on the Garvaghy Road. For these Protestants, residents' groups were merely a cover for republicans who had needed another outlet for their anti-Britishness during the IRA ceasefire.

Most Protestants in the focus groups believed that there was an attempt to remove British culture from Northern Ireland. Protestants continually claimed that the loyal orders were not anti-Catholic. It was suggested that where Orangemen could not walk Protestants could not live, as illustrated by the boycott of Protestant businesses following Drumcree. The view was expressed that the issue of parades was far bigger than walking down a stretch of road: it was about whether the British culture of Protestants was to survive.

This was not seen in isolation, but in conjunction with other examples of assaults on Protestantism, such as 'ethnic cleansing' on the border. The view was expressed that Protestants had been pushed eastwards from rural areas, near the border, and now an attempt was being made to exclude them from parts of Northern Ireland's cities and towns as well. It was felt that anyone should have the right to walk along the 'Queen's highway', along 'traditional' routes walked by their forefathers.

Many Catholics believed that, despite the changes which had come about since the fall of Stormont, they were still seen as enemies of the state, as being 'disloyal', and frequent reference was made to Lord Brookeborough's statements in the 30s. There was a perception that Catholics were not able fully to express their Irish identity The true measure of esteem, it was suggested, was the respect, equality and justice accorded to the culture of one's enemy'. This absence of respect for Irish nationalist culture contributed towards Catholic alienation from the state.

With more than 3,000 marches every year, of which more than 90 per cent were loyalist, Northern Ireland was considered a Protestant place. Catholic marches, on the other hand, were prevented from entering many city or town centres, contributing towards a feeling that Protestants still 'owned the place', that the 'public face' of Northern Ireland remained Protestant. Many Catholics found it intimidating that public places flew the Union flag, or that council buildings continued to display such signs as 'Castlereagh Still Says No'.

One person, who described herself as neither nationalist nor republican, but Catholic, complained that she was tired of continually hearing the same old rhetoric from unionists. For her, the important consideration was how would her rights be protected, as a non-political Catholic? She wished to hear some positive encouragement from unionist politicians that she, and people like her, had to a right to exist in the Northern Ireland state.

There was tension expressed by some members of the focus groups towards what they regarded as 'Castle Catholics', those middle-class Catholics who, it was felt, had compromised their nationalism to attain a certain status. It was felt that working-class Catholics had been constantly faced with violence, while middle-class Catholics had not had to live with a conflict on their doorstep. As one person put it, some people had lived in Belfast but for the last ten years had been unaware there was a war on.

Although both Catholics and Protestants expressed a desire to end segregated housing, it was also apparent that few thought much could be done in a practical way to achieve this, given the intercommunal tensions. Some Protestants expressed a fear of what they saw as the slow, but steady, colonisation of formally Protestant areas by Catholics. This was related to fear that the closing of 'Protestant' - that is, state - schools in those areas was part of a deliberate attempt to drive Protestants out.

In a different vein, the Fair Employment Commission was seen as being a predominantly Catholic organisation. Protestants who accepted the need for fair employment legislation to reduce employment inequities warned that this in itself was creating a sense of injustice within their community. It was also suggested that if Catholics did have genuine grievances in the past, this was no longer so. Direct rule, it was argued, had materially and culturally shifted the balance towards Catholics, often on the back of IRA violence.

For Catholic group participants, by contrast, issues of employment and unemployment were closely wrapped up with their perceptions of the Northern Ireland state. There was a sense that Catholics did not have a fair and equal role in Northern Ireland. With various instances cited of political, social, economic and cultural experience in Northern Ireland, reinforcing socio-economic grievances, for many Catholics fair employment legislation was not enough to remedy their sense of alienation: for them, the main source of grievance was the existence of the state itself.

The Northern Ireland state was regarded as inherently sectarian, having been established on the basis of a religious headcount to preserve an artificially large Protestant and pro-British majority. For these Catholics, the state was irreformable and the only way to achieve equality was through its dissolution and the establishment of an all-Ireland unitary or federal state. These Catholics felt that because of the British guarantee, the 'unionist veto', there could be no change within the UK, because this merely encouraged Protestants to adopt an intransigent attitude to change.

Those Catholics who welcomed such reforms as fair employment legislation nevertheless criticised the British government for their piecemeal character in the context of an overall policy perceived as reactive with a priority of containing the security situation. Moreover, fair employment legislation would continue to have a limited impact if its benefits could not be demonstrated to more people in deprived areas.

For many Protestants, on the other hand, fair employment legislation was seen as primarily directed at them. Some believed it to be part of a general preparation for an ultimate British disengagement from Northern Ireland, part of a general running down of the material well-being of the Protestant community.

This section has explored a wide gamut of sites of grievance and contention, from cultural expression to policing. Again, the proliferation of these sites and the gulf of understanding and aspiration are striking.

On the other hand, however, two positive conclusions emerge from this discussion. The first is that there are ways in which parity of esteem can be thematically addressed in a manner susceptible to tangible reform, and in some areas - such as fair employment - significant reform has already been made. And the second is that, outside of government and the parties, there is a wealth of individual and organisational talent in Northern Ireland, derived from experience and social networks, which has shown a capacity to think through the issues in a manner rather more adequate to their complexity.


1 Derick Wilson and Jerry Tyrrell, Institutions for conciliation and mediation', in Seamus Dunn ed, Facets of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, Macmillan, London, 1995, pp 230-3
2 ibid, p241
3 Alan Smith, 'Education and the conflict in Northern Ireland', in ibid, pp 172-3
4 ibid, p175
5 Lucy Bryson and Clem McCartney, Clashing Symbols, Institute of Irish Studies, Queen's University, Belfast, 1994, pp 8-9
6 Andrew Hamilton, Linda Moore and Tim Trimble, Policing a Divided Society: Issues and Perceptions in Northern Ireland, Centre for the Study of Conflict, Coleraine, 1995, pp 13-16
7 Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan, Parade and Protest: A Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland, Centre for the Study of Conflict, Coleraine, 1996, pp 94-8
8 ibid, p99
9 Kevin Boyle and Tom Hadden, Northern Ireland: The Choice, Penguin, London, 1994, pp45-6
10 John Sugden, 'Sport, community relations and community conflict in Northern Ireland', in Dunn, op cit, pp 200-2

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